USA-only sneakers would mean big expansion for local company

USA-only sneakers would mean big expansion for local company

PAWTUCKET - Officials from the Rhode Island Textile Company are hoping that national lawmakers will pass a law they say would provide a huge boost to the company's financial bottom line and bring 25 to 30 new jobs to the city.

Rhode Island Textile Company, which bases two of its manufacturing facilities in Pawtucket on Columbus Avenue in Pawtucket and has a distribution facility on Martin Street in Cumberland, would stand to gain substantial revenue if the Department of Defense is required to buy U.S.-made athletic shoes, and with them the high-quality laces the company makes.

The century-old Rhode Island Textile Company could see its military business segment rebound significantly, both in terms of job growth and sales, should legislation be enacted prohibiting the Department of Defense from circumventing provisions of the 1941 Berry Amendment, an act that requires the Department of Defense to give preference to domestically produced, manufactured or home-grown products when buying supplies.

For 10 years, the Department of Defense has supplied vouchers to new service members to buy athletic footwear and has not required that they be made in the U.S., according to Rhode Island Textile officials.

Earlier this year, Rhode Island lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, joined other congressional leaders in signing a letter to President Obama to apply the Berry Amendment to athletic footwear so that manufacturing jobs can be created in the U.S. and military trainees receive American-made goods rather than foreign products. The amendment passed the U.S. House of Representatives over the summer and now awaits approval from Obama and the Senate.

"Pawtucket, and all of Rhode Island for that matter, has been hit especially hard by the tough economy," said Fred Nunes, vice president and general manager at Rhode Island Textile Company. "There are not enough manufacturing jobs to go around in Rhode Island. Correcting this legislative loophole is a fantastic opportunity to get more people working in the area."

Nunes, a Cumberland resident, told The Breeze "it's only fair" that U.S. military footwear be made in the U.S.

"Here we are subsidizing things made in other countries when we're losing manufacturing here," he said.

For a company that currently employs 150 people in Rhode Island, mostly local residents, 25 to 30 more jobs would be huge, said Nunes. Company officials do not have an estimate on what the financial windfall from passage of the amendment would be, said Nunes, but they believe it would be more than enough for a big hiring blitz.

Federal sequestration has taken a bite out of Rhode Island Textile Company's military business, which encompasses nearly one third of the company's overall enterprise, according to company officials.

Nunes said that much of the equipment needed to handle an expansion is already in place at the Pawtucket facilities, as machines that were previously shut down due to lack of work would be restarted.

At its two Pawtucket plants, which have a combined 130 employees, Rhode Island Textile Company manufactures shoelaces for New England athletic shoemaker New Balance, including a version of the 950, a Berry Amendment-compliant sneaker made entirely from products manufactured in the U.S.

Rhode Island Textile Company, which started out 100 years ago manufacturing corset lace for women, and later began manufacturing cotton laces for military members during World War II, remains dedicated to making high-quality elastics, cords and webbings for military applications, including personal chutes and cargo systems, masks, sleeping bags, canteen covers and other specialty items, according to the company.

Among other positions, company officials would be looking to hire braiders, tenders, winders, inspectors and tipper operators.

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